Donald Schon

Thinking of a teacher in terms of a learning practitioner contributes to the idea and understanding of the theory and practice of teaching and learning. Donald Schon’s innovative thinking around notions such as ‘the learning society’, ‘double-loop learning’ and ‘reflection-in-action’ has become part of the language of education.
“Donald Alan Schon (1930-1997) trained as a philosopher, but it was his concern with the development of reflective practice and learning systems within organizations and communities for which he is remembered. Significantly, he was also an accomplished pianist and clarinetist – playing in both jazz and chamber groups. This interest in improvisation and structure was mirrored in his academic writing, most notably in his exploration of professional’s ability to ‘think on their feet’.”
His first book, Displacement of Concepts (1963) (republished in 1967 helped us to see the importance of seeing things anew. Donald Schon’s next book Technology and Change, The new Heraclitus (1967) Schon’s central argument was that ‘change’ was a fundamental feature of modern life and that it is necessary to develop social systems that could learn and adapt He began a very fruitful collaboration with Chris Argyris. This collaboration involved teaching, researching and consulting and resulted in three key publications: Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness (1974), Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective (1978), and Organizational Learning II: Theory, Method, and Practice (1996). It was the last of these areas that then provided the focus for the deeply influential series of books around the processes and development of reflective practitioners (1983; 1987; 1991). He sought to offer an approach to an epistemology of practice based on a close examination of what a (small) number of different practitioners actually do. The heart of this study was, he wrote, ‘an analysis of the distinctive structure of reflection-in-action’ (1983: ix). He argued that it was ‘susceptible to a kind of rigor that is both like and unlike the rigor of scholarly work and controlled experimentation’ (op. cit.). His work was quickly, and enthusiastically, taken up by a large number of people involved in the professional development of educators, and a number of other professional groupings.

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